Francisco Roman was leading a team of Marines through the chaotic roads of Ramadi, Iraq in 2005 when the streets suddenly turned quiet.
“We were patrolling back to our base, and I noticed that the streets were empty,” said Roman. “A mosque started playing the call to prayer. I looked back and told my squad mate that it felt like we were in a movie and the next thing I saw was a bright orange flash.”
An improvised explosive device hit his team. Roman was a veteran of the first battle of Fallujah in 2004 and was now a leader of young Marines with the 1st Marine Division. They were his first thought as he regained consciousness. He stumbled to take cover, fighting through blurry vision and a “tingling” feeling all over his body.
“I found my squad and asked them who got hit and they told me that I got hit,” said Roman. “I didn’t know I got hit.”
On Tuesday, according to a Marine Corps press release, Roman was finally awarded a Purple Heart from the explosion, almost two decades after the ambush.
Amid the violence and chaos of war in Ramadi, Roman was never put in for a Purple Heart. His company commander was killed in action, and any push to put the Marine in for a Purple Heart melted away as the violent deployment dragged on.
Roman said Tuesday that he’d played down his injuries and never considered himself worthy of the award.
“Couple of reasons why it took so long, when I got injured back in 2005, I did not want to get evacuated, I didn’t want to leave my guys behind. I wanted to stay with them,” he said Tuesday at an award ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. “I also felt I wasn’t injured enough to leave the battlefield.”
After retiring from the Marines as a Staff Sergeant, Roman became a police officer in San Diego. In 2018, he was shot three times in a shootout when he threw his body in front of another wounded officer.
“I took a position in front of him just in case, so it would be me to get hit next instead of him getting hit, again,” said Roman, “All I could think about was my family and protecting my partner.”
He was so gravely wounded that doctors induced him into a coma for two days. Roman spent 364 days in rehabilitation.
As his story of survival as a cop spread, Roman’s old squad mates from Ramadi hadn’t forgotten the 2005 attack. Together with Roman’s wife, they convinced him to apply for the Purple Heart he didn’t get in 2005. His former Marines provided witness statements and his platoon commander wrote a statement in lieu of the company commander, the Marine Corps release said.
He also had a friend in a high place. Roman’s battalion commander in Ramadi is now General Eric Smith, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Smith approved the citation and Roman was presented the medal on January 23 by Marine Corps Col. Daniel Whitley, the deputy commander of Marine Corps Installations West.
Whitley served with Roman in 2008 while on recruiting duty in Peekskill, New York.
“Roman lives a life of service,” Whitley told the Marines in a press release. “He selflessly sacrificed for his country, and he continues to sacrifice for his community.”
“We serve to help people, that’s what’s most important,” he said.
The latest on Task & Purpose
- Navy fires captain of guided missile submarine after DUI arrest
- How many soldiers are in a platoon? The U.S. Army by the numbers
- The Navy relieved 16 commanding officers in 2023
- Bradley Fighting Vehicles are taking out modern tanks in Ukraine
- Army CID investigating daycare incident at Carlisle Barracks